Kodi: set-top streaming boxes that take the complexity out of building your own media server

Kodi boxes are commercial video-streaming gadgets that implement XBMC, a longstanding media-server free/open source project, in pre-packaged form, ready to accept third party plugins, including ones that access infringing streaming services, giving users access to practically every video, commercial and noncommercial, for free, with an easy search-interface.

Though XBMC has been around for a long time, it is a real chore to set up your own standalone XBMC server, requiring that you buy a mini-ATX all-in-one PC, install a GNU/Linux OS on it, set up and configure XBMC, and so on. The Kodi boxes take all that complexity out of the picture, prepackaging the system in boxes purpose-built to sit unobtrusively on your media totem. They're a really interesting contrast to the set-top boxes the average American family is forced to spend $200/year renting from their cable-operators, whose power-hungry, trailing-edge architecture have been the subject of a Congressional "Unlock-the-Box" rule for decades, with no motion in sight.

The core Kodi team aren't happy about the integration of copyright infringing services into their platform, and they expend some effort to separate their project from the "TV Addons" community, where development on tools that can infringe takes place.

But companies like Tickbox recombine these two projects into a single, $100 package.

Our household has subscriptions to the majority of streaming services, but that doesn't mean that it's easy to watch programming together on the big screen. The last time we tried for a family movie-night, Hulu wouldn't play on any of my laptop browsers (because I'm running Linux, which isn't supported on its DRM), or on any of my mobile devices (because they're rooted). In the end, it took 30 minutes to find a software/hardware combination that would cast to the big screen in our living room — while a Tickbox or another Kodi box would do the same in an instant, for free.

Tickbox is being sued by "a coalition of Hollywood studios, Netflix, and Amazon."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a prominent digital rights group, has come out in support of Lackman and TV Addons, drawing those same lines. "These lawsuits by big TV incumbents seem to have a few goals: to expand the scope of secondary copyright infringement yet again, to force major Kodi add-on distributors off of the Internet, and to smear and discourage open source, freely configurable media players by focusing on the few bad actors in that ecosystem," wrote EFF lawyers Jeremy Malcolm and Mitch Stoltz recently.
And while the TickBox TV and TV Addons suits have substantive differences, it's still worth noting that neither targets the specific developers behind those infringing plugins, or the people putting pirated materials online in the first place. Or, for that matter, the person watching the video on the Kodi box. Hollywood and the music industry rarely targets individuals in that way, but there is some legal risk to the home viewer.

"There would technically have to be legal exposure. In order to be able to hold these types of box dependents secondarily liable, the law requires there has to be a primary infringer," says Rothken. "That's typically going to be a consumer who's viewing the material, and in some instances other host providers who are streaming the material on the internet."


[Brian Barrett/Wired]